Hemingway’s Short, Moving Nobel Prize Speech

David Dobbs

Yesterday, a few hours after the Nobel Prize for Literature had been awarded to Tomas Transtromer, I received from former Nobel staffer Simon Frantz an audio clip that seized my heart. It is a 1954 recording of Ernest Hemingway reading his acceptance speech for the prize that year. (Hemingway did not attend the banquet, but had the U.S. Ambassador to Sweden read his short speech; soon after he recorded this audio in Cuba.)

I have read the speech a few times before. Yet when I listened to it today for the first time, at a time when I am re-reading his stories now and have him much on my mind, the words struck me with a new power. He was in a terrible place just then. He had written several great books and, more recently, some not so great and one, The Old Man and the Sea, a sort of small triumph that yet fell short of his best. In the seven years that remained before he would take his life because he could no longer write, he managed to assemble his powers for only one more great book — A Moveable Feast, his memoir of Paris and youth. He still reaches, but he cannot grasp. It will get worse, but he reaches still.

This, from “A Cat in the Rain,” 30 years earlier:

It was raining. The rain dripped from the palm trees. Water stood in pools on the gravel paths. The sea broke in a long line in the rain and slipped back down the beach to come up and break again in a long line in the rain.

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